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Full text of "Alexander von Humboldt"

284                               LIFE   OF
niy subject, for which, according to my requirements,
a life would scarcely suffice/'    Although  Humboldt
speaks so modestly, in the commencement of this letter,
of his philological knowledge, we may justly assume
that   he   had   advanced   very   far   in    this   branch
before this time; for it cannot be supposed that he
who had attained to such eminence in the field  of
languages., should not have very early mastered the
Greek tongue.    Indeed, we shall soon see that the
philosophy of language began to occupy his attention
already at this period.    We can, indeed, see in the
words   quoted  above,   nothing  but   the   honourable
modesty which would not permit him to address Wolf,
on   his exclusive field^ as  an   equal.    In a letter to
Schiller, written about the same period, he does not
conceal that he feels himself sufficiently master of the
Greek language to translate the most difficult Greek
poet? who has hitherto been mastered by no one, in the
rhythm of the original.    It is, however, natural, that
Humboldt should never have considered actual philo-
logical knowledge as his chief purpose, although he
considered that nothing in science could be trifling or
unimportant.     This   he   says} in a critical essay on
Wolfs translation of the cc Odyssey/' in the following
words:
"It is difficult to say what a trifle means. For him
who is accustomed to study any branch of science in a
philosophic spirit., no portion of it has a particular im-
portance, but each has its value by its relation to the
whole. By an exact view of the whole, not by casual
suppression of the apparently unimportant, does a
clever, spirited treatment of any subject differ from a
pedantic one. In science, also, everything is inter-
connected, and if the critic has to study the language
to its full extent, it is difficult to understand why he
should neglect accentuation and orthography, or only
study it to a certain arbitrary extent." Tims Hum-
boldt entered into all studies, and pursued each one
which he found requisite for his purpose, as if it were,
for the time, the chief purpose and task of his life.